Racial gap in overdose death widens dramatically

OneOhio opioid settlement board has almost no minority representation 

Overdose death hit a record level in 2021. But this obscures what’s really happening. Overdose death rates for White residents of Ohio declined in 2021 while overdose death rates for Black residents soared yet again.

White Ohio residents suffered an overdose death rate of 42.1 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to nearly complete Ohio Department of Health mortality data. That rate is down slightly from 42.5 in 2020 and the previous high of 43.2 in 2017.

Black Ohio residents suffered a record overdose death rate of 58.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2021. That rate is a big jump from the overdose death rate of 51.3 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2020 and 37.8 in 2017.

When looking at death counts, about 30 fewer White Ohioans died from overdoses in 2021 than a year earlier while about 110 more Black Ohioans died. The combined results were a record year for overdose death in 2021, but significant changes in the demographics of who was dying. 

The 2021 mortality data is only 99% complete, so a few more deaths are still to be reported. However, the additional deaths will not affect the trend of an increasingly large racial gap in overdose death rates.

Problems with Ohio’s overdose response emphasis

The increasing racial gap in overdose death rates reveals significant problems with the emphasis of Ohio’s overdose prevention efforts and a demographic narrowness in who controls money and policies.

Last week, the OneOhio Recovery Board, which will spend a majority of the state’s opioid settlement money, met for the first time. The public was banned from attending the meeting and told to watch a video. The video showed that ALL 27 people in the room were White. The lone Black member of the 29-member board, a former vice mayor of Cincinnati appointed by the governor, participated by video.

The clueless assembly of a board consisting of nearly all older White local government officials to spend $500 million+ on overdose prevention reveals much about what’s wrong with overdose prevention in Ohio.

Despite the involvement of many well-intentioned people and spending large sums of money, Ohio’s overdose prevention effort is, at its core and at the macro level, too narrow in:

  • * who is involved.
  • * who makes decisions.
  • * where money is spent.
  • * who benefits from spending and policies.

People with lived and shared real-world experience need to be welcomed to the decision-making level of overdose prevention. Instead, not only can’t we get a seat in the table, we aren’t even allowed in the room!

This cannot continue if Ohio truly wants to reduce overdose death. We believe our state does really and sincerely want to reduce overdose death; it’s just struggling with execution. Ohio government needs to open its doors and welcome the participation and influence of the impacted population.

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